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Offaly History (short for Offaly Historical & Archaeological) was first formed in 1938 and re-established in 1969 and is located at Bury Quay, Tullamore, Co. Offaly since 1993(next to the new Tullamore D.E.W Visitor Centre).

We are about collecting and sharing memories. We do this in an organised way though exhibitions, supporting the publication of local interest books, our website , Facebook, open evenings, our library and offices at Bury Quay.

Our Mission
To promote Offaly History including community and family history

What we do:

  • Promote all aspects of history in Co. Offaly.
  • Genealogy service for counties Laois and Offaly.
  • Co. Offaly photographic records for study and sale in addition to a limited number of publications on Laois and Irish general historical interest.
  • Purchase and sale of Offaly interest books though the Society’s book store and website.
  • Publication of books under the Society’s publishing arm Esker Press.
  • The Society subscribes to almost all the premier historical journals in Ireland.

Our Society covers a diverse range of Offaly Heritage:

  • Architectural heritage, historic monuments such as monastic and castle buildings.
  • Industrial and urban development of towns and villages.
  • Archaeological objects and artifacts.
  • Flora, fauna and bogs, wildlife habitats, geology and Natural History.
  • Landscapes, heritage gardens and parks, farming and inland waterways.
  • Local literary, social, economic, military, political, scientific and sports history.

Offaly History is a non-profit community group with a growing membership of some 150 individuals.

The Society focuses on enhancing educational opportunities, understanding and knowledge of the county heritage while fostering an inclusive approach and civic pride in local identity. We promote these objectives through:

  • The holding of monthly lectures, occasional seminars, exhibitions and film screenings.
    Organising tours during the summer months to places of shared historical interest.
  • The publication of an annual journal Offaly Heritage – to date nine issues.
  • We play a unique role collecting and digitising original primary source materials especially photographs and oral history recordings
  • Offaly History is  the centre for  Family History research in Counties Laois and Offaly.
  • The Society is linked to the renowned Irish Family Foundation website and Roots Ireland where some 900,000 records of Offaly/Laois interest can be accessed on a pay-per-view basis worldwide. Currently these websites have an estimated 20 million records of all Ireland interest.
  • A burgeoning library of books, CD-ROMs, videos, DVDs, oral and folklore recordings, manuscripts, newspapers and journals, maps, photographs and various artifacts.
  • OHAS Collections
  • OHAS Centre Facilities

The financial activities of the Society are operated under the aegis of Offaly Heritage Centre Limited, a charitable company whose directors also serve on the Society’s elected committee. None of the Society’s directors receive remuneration or any kind. All the company’s assets are held in trust to promote the voluntary activities of the Society. Our facilities are largely free to the public or run purely on a costs-recovery basis.

Acting as a policy advisory body –  Offaly History endeavors to ensure all government departments, local authorities, tourism agencies and key opinion formers prioritise heritage matters.

Meet the current committee:

Our Committee represents a broad range of backgrounds and interests. All share a common interest in collecting and promoting the heritage of the county and making it available to the wider community.

2017 Committee

  • Helen Bracken (President)
  • Pat Wynne (Vice President and Joint Treasurer)
  • Niall Sweeney (Vice President)
  • Michael Byrne (Secretary)
  • Lisa Shortall (Deputy Secretary)
  • Dorothee Bibby (Record Secretary)
  • Charlie Finlay (Joint Treasurer)
  • Darrell Hooper
  • Brian Pey
  • Fred Geoghegan
  • Noel Guerin
  • Henry Edgill
  • Peter Burke
  • Angella Kelly
  • Rory Masterson
  • Shaun Wrafter
  • Ronnie Matthews
  • Oliver Dunne
  • Ciara Molloy
  • Stephen Callaghan (Heritage Items)

If you would like to help with the work of the Society by coming on a sub-committee or in some other way please email us or let an existing member know.

+353-5793-21421 [email protected] Open 9am-4.30pm Mon-Fri

Kenny’s ballroom, GV 12 High Street, Tullamore now forms part of the Esker Arts Centre. Another story in the Tullamore 400th series contributed by Offaly History

Today, 14 April 2023, will see the first event in the new Esker Arts Centre at High Street, Tullamore. Part of the new arts building was once ‘a ballroom of romance’ when owned by the Kenny family of musicians with their own dance hall to the back of their house at no. 12 High Street. Memories of that hall and the Kenny Band were recalled almost forty years ago in reports compiled by the Tullamore Tribune. We had no county archives at that time and wonder have the precious posters and scrapbook mentioned in the articles survived. In an earlier blog we looked at the story of no. 13 High Street. No. 12 dates to 1790 and nos 13 (Esker Arts) and  GV 14 (Ulster Bank) may well be 1750s in date although the head lease to 13 and 14 High Street was to Elizabeth Crofton and dates from only 1801.

The 1880s to c. 1960 shopfront to the former Michael Moynan’s (later Kilroy’s store, 1908-2007), nos 12, 13 and 14 in the block from Meath Lane to Ulster Bank.

GV 12 High Street, R. Power, T. Tutty, more recently Conway & Co and others

This house is to the front of the former Kenny ballroom and may have been acquired by the Kenny family about 1920. Known as no. 12 High Street it is comprised of a two-storey, four bay house with round-headed doorway and ground floor shops fronts.

The house no. 12 is about 1790. The second shopfront to the right is about 1980 in date. Meath Lane and access to the Kenny ballroom to the right.

The house was built, about 1790 by Michael Cuddehy, or Cuddihy, a land surveyor to Charles William Bury on what prior to the lease appears to have been waste ground. Almost all the lease maps of the period 1786 to 1820 bear the Cuddehy signature. Bury leased the plot to Cuddehy for an annual rent of £1.10s.0d, and £0.15s.0d. renewal fine. It was described in the 1790 lease as ‘the plot of ground with half the passage or gateway of Shaw’s house (GV 11 High Street (later McGinns) to Dr Crofton’s house  (now Esker Arts) in the tenure of Wm. Bennett, 36 ft 6 inches in front and 20 perches in all, plantation measure’. The family appear in the 1802 list of Protestant parishioners as Michael Cuddy with family Katherine, Mary Anne 13, Edward 10, Margaret 7, Catherine 4 and Susan 2.[1] In 1806 Cuddehy sold the house to Samuel Collins,  a local wealthy merchant, for a yearly rent of £34.2.6. In 1822 Margaret Cuddehy of Tullamore, spinster, appears to have mortgaged her interest in the house to William Bennett of Kilbeggan for £90. She was entitled to it under the will of her father. Here the house was described as the dwelling formerly in possession of Samuel P. Collins and then in possession of William Murphy.[2]  In 1823 James and Margaret Ireland (formerly Cuddehy, had become entitled to the annual rent by the will of her father), raised an additional £70 and sold her interest in the property to William Bennett of Kilbeggan for £160. Bennett would now pay the head rent and the one life surviving before renewal was that of a Mary Anne Bennet (otherwise Cuddehy).[3] Philip Belton, apothecary, sold the house to Thomas Collins of Tullamore in 1837. It was formerly occupied by Joseph Roberts and was then in possession of William Morgan.[4] Thomas Collins, a grocer, occupied the premises in 1843, holding it from Dr Belton of Tullamore and that the former had improved the premises. He was also in business as a woollen draper next door (GV no.13, after 1907, Kilroy’s hardware until 2007). By 1854 both properties had passed to Michael Moynan who was also in the drapery business. The Tutty shopfront was erected in the late 1870s as part of a new frontage for the Tutty and Kilroy holdings.[5]

12, 13 and 14 High Street opened out to Meath (formerly Brewery) Lane. The numbers are superimposed and based on the Griffith Valuation report of 1854 (GV).

In 1843 the valuer reported that:

12. (30)      Thomas Collins grocer [Michael Moynan private house from Mrs Bennett, Chas McKeon] Collins holds this from Dr Belton of this town – he improved the premises. There is a lock up gateway and yard but no garden.

                   F.33.0, H.19.0, Q.L.1B+ L.R. £26.0.

Dr Philip Belton died in 1853.[6]  He had been one of the elite 100 men who attended the homecoming dinner for the earl of Charleville in 1851.

Michael Moynan had vacated GV. 12 by the late 1850s when McKeon or Charles M. Kerin was occupier and holding from Mrs Bennett. Moynan had now consolidated home and business next door in GV 13 and GV 14. Charles McKerin was holding from Mrs Bennett in 1861–4 (valuation £14).

1901 Census – No 7, GV 12, High Street was a tobacconist, stationery, 1st class, seven rooms occupied by the family. The Potter family had a boarder and a servant.  The had seven windows to the front.  It had a stable and two stores. Husband and Wife, five children one boarder and one servant. This was much as it was for the Daly sweetshop and tobacconist of the 1950s and early 1960s. In 1901 the occupants were:

PotterJames GHead of FamilyCOI44Marine EngineerMDublin CityPotterMary JaneWifeCOI41–MCounty DownPotterGeorgeSonCOI21Wine Merchant ClerkNMCo RoscommonPotterFrances ADaughterCOI19Tobacconist and StationerNMCo RoscommonPotterAdaDaughterCOI14ScholarNMCo WestmeathPotterMabel CDaughterCOI10ScholarNMDublin CityPotterMildred EDaughterCOI3–NMKings CountyMorrisonArthur HenryBoarderMethodist Church25Bank ClerkNMQueen’s CoWalshBridgetServantRC16Domestic ServantNMKings Co, Tullamore

1911 census High Street (no.54), GV 12. The family lived in 2nd class private dwelling in a house made of brick and slate roof. The house had 6 windows to the front. The Hannagan family had occupied seven rooms. The house had six out-offices which were a stable, a coach house, a cow house, a fowl house and three sheds. The family on census night was comprised of the husband, wife, two daughters, one son and a female servant lived in the house.

HannaganRichardHead of FamilyCOI47Commercial TravellerM–HannaganMargaretWifeCOI40–MKings CountyHannaganAbigailDaughterCOI16ScholarSKings CountyHannaganJohn AlexanderSonCOI15ScholarSKings CountyHannaganMargaret JaneDaughterCOI11ScholarSKings CountyMolloyAnneServantRC25Domestic ServantSKings County

Prominently associated with the revived Tullamore Agricultural Show Richard Hannagan died in 1922.[7]

This house was well known in the 1930s and 1940s as the location (at the rear) housed Kenny’s Ballroom. Mrs Anne Kenny was the organist in the church but she was also the founder and leader of Kenny’s Dance Band which flourished in the 1930s and 1940s and was comprised entirely of members of the Kenny family. The old ballroom was purchased by Dermot Kilroy in the late 1950s and incorporated in the furniture showrooms of Kilroy’s furniture and hardware store in 1964.[8] The new Esker Arts Centre can take some its inspiration from the musical Kenny family. The Kenny contribution was recorded in the Tribune in 1984 and 1985.

Oh The Nights of the Kenny Dance…..[9]

The death of Mrs. Roseanna Mary O’Regan in England recently recalls for many people throughout the midlands many happy hours of dancing to the sound of Kenny’s Dance Band. Mrs. O’Regan was the former Roseanna Kenny, High Street, and was one of the most talented members of the band formed by her mother, the late Mary Ann Kenny.[10]

In an era characterised by flashing lights and loud music Kenny’s dance band would no doubt be out of place but in their day they enjoyed widespread popularity and were well known throughout the country.

Mrs Mary Ann Kenny formed the band following the death of her husband Joseph in 1935. Mr. Kenny, a staff member of Offaly County Council, was himself a talented musician and frequently played in public while his wife was organist at the Church of the Assumption, Tullamore. The band was made up of Mrs Kenny’s family and she held the group together with a spirit of determination which was remarkable.

The Ballroom of Romance evening in 1985

All over the place

          One of the family, Miss Maureen Kenny, High Street[11], remembers the band in those days. “We went all over the place” she recalls “playing from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m.” “In Loughrea and Killucan we played from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.” she adds. For 2s/6d you got, she says, “a great night’s dancing, ham sandwiches – and as much tea as you were able to drink.”

          The band played “everything from opera to ceili and Miss Kenny is still proud of the variety of music in their programme. There was quick steps, tangos, waltzes,” she says. “you catered for everyone.”

Miss Kenny has among her prized collection of momentos photographs of the band and press cutting featuring advertisements and reports of the bands appearances.

          A glance at the scrapbook serves to show how popular the band was during the 1930s and 1940s – On September 17th 1940  they played at “A Social Dance” in the Badminton Hall, Mountmellick Y.M. and W.C.A. Invitation was strictly by invitation with tickets 3s/- each. On January 24th 1947 in the Courthouse ballroom. Tullamore Golf Club held a dance with “Music by Kenny’s Dance Band” (own amplification). Dancing was from 10 p.m. to 4.00 a.m. with catering by “Miss Magee and Ladies committee.” They also played in Nenagh, Roscrea, Edenderry, Daingean, Tuam, Ferbane and Banagher. Farmers’ Dances and annual Hunt dances were especially popular events. “They were really big affairs” Miss Kenny recalls “they were there in suits, long dresses, the lot.”

Kenny’s Ballroom

            Mrs. Kenny not only saw the opening for a good band however. She also saw the need in Tullamore for a ballroom and so Kenny’s Ballroom, High Street, was built. It was in operation through the 1930s and 40s being sold to Kilroys Ltd., in 1952 and the firm now use it as their showroom.

          Kenny’s ballroom was something of an institution in Tullamore – popular with patrons but controversial because of the then unorthodox practice of holding dances during Lent.

          Miss Maureen Kenny recalls that the band would be touring elsewhere while the crowds flocked to their dance hall. “All the big bands were there” she says. Order was never a problem but the late Willie Duffy was present as steward. “There would be the odd row in dance halls but that was it, rows were very seldom” Miss Kenny says.

          Kenny’s Ballroom was used for many gatherings – On Friday January 18th 1946 the dance was held in aid of the “Irish Nurses Benevolent Fund”. A poster in Miss Kenny’s collection reads: Tullamore Local Defence Force August 23rd 1942 at 3 p.m. Programme: Musical Selection by Tullamore and Clara Brass Band (conducted by Cyril Cooper).” That night, the poster announced there would be a “Grand Gala Dance” in Kenny’s ballroom for which admission was 5s/-. On Friday October 8th 1948 it was the turn of the Tullamore branch of the British Legion to host a dance in Kenny’s.

No Music

            Maureen Kenny naturally regrets the passing of such memorable events. Today she is “not impressed” by what passes for music. “There is no music from start to finish” she complains “if you put a music sheet in front of them they would not be able to read it, they’d drop dead” she quips. “I see them shaking their heads so I turn it off” she says. The Beatles, she says “were grand fellows” – she says it with such conviction that you know the Liverpool Lads would have been very welcome in Kenny’s ballroom. And the rest of them ? “Who would go to see them” she declares.[12]

That interview was given in 1984 and the following year Junior Chamber organised a ‘Ballroom of Romance’ in connection with the events to mark the 200th anniversary of the Tullamore Balloon Fire of 10 May 1785.

Ballroom Dancers Relive Old Memories, May 1985

Nearly 300 people attended the ‘Ballroom of Romance’ night in the Bridge House, Tullamore on Friday night.  Organised by Junior Chamber Tullamore, the dance attracted many experienced ballroom dancers not just from Offaly but also from neighbouring counties.

    Music was provided by the Tony Chambers Band, winners of the 1985 ReHab/Tribune Hall of Fame award and the band proved to be an outstanding success.  Band leader Tony Chambers Snr. played in the Midlands many times during the 1950s and had fond recollections of Tullamore’s own great dance band ‘Kenny’s’.

    An unusual side event at the dance was an exhibition of old dance posters from the ballroom dancing era.  The posters were on loan from a member of Kenny’s dance band, Miss Maureen Kenny, High Street, and were the source of comment from many people who recalled the functions advertised. Photocopies of material contained in Miss Kenny’s scrapbook were provided for patrons and these were also a source if considerable interest.

    The dance was part of Junior Chamber’s contribution to the programme of events to mark the Great Balloon fire and was attended by members of Offaly Historical Society as well as by representatives of Junior Chamber Birr.

    The Function was organised by the Finance and Social committee of the Chapter: Mrs Ann Starling, Chairperson, Mr Henry Hill, Secretary, Mr. John Phelan, Mr Noel Mollen, Mr Oliver Walsh, Mrs Patricia Hoedt.[13]

[1] C.C. Ellison (ed.), ‘Early 19th century lists of Protestant parishioners in the diocese of Meath’ in Irish Ancestor, vol. V, no. 2 (1973), pp 113-26.

[2] Registry of Deeds, 30 July 1822, 780/114/528050.

[3] Registry of Deeds, 11 January 1790, Bury to Cuddihy, memorial no. 524/111/342449; 17 January 1806, Cuddihy to Collins, memorial no., 628/499/433809; 30 July 1822, Cuddihy to Bennett, memorial no., 780/114/528050; 29 September 1823, Ireland to Bennett, memorial no., 785/232/531168.

[4] Registry of Deeds, 30 Sept. 1837, 1842/9/233.

[5] MS valuation, Tullamore, house no 30; Slater, Directory (1856), Leinster, p. 104; MS valuation Tullamore, 1870-83, p. 134.

[6] King’s County Chronicle, 9 Feb. 1853.

[7] Offaly Independent, 20 May 1922.

[8] Offaly Independent, 11 Apr. 1964, 22 Aug. 1964.

[9] Tullamore Tribune, 3 Mar. 1984

[10] Mrs Mary Anne Kenny died in 1964. She was survived by five of her children and a son-in-law – Offaly Independent, 22 Aug. 1964                   

[11] Maureen Kenny died in 1989- Tullamore Tribune, 8 Apr. 1989.

[12] Tullamore Tribune, 3 Mar. 1984

[13] Tullamore Tribune, 18 May 1985

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